By Senator Joe Donnelly
Consumer fraud is a significant problem in the United States, especially among our growing senior population. Seniors are often targets of fraud because of a perception that seniors are more vulnerable and have a lifetime of savings available to steal.
That is why I held a field hearing of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging at the Indiana State Fair in August. The hearing, entitled, "Trust Your Instincts? Tools to Empower Seniors to Identify Scams and Fraud," focused on spreading the word about how to identify and properly report scams and fraud targeting Hoosier seniors.
The Committee heard testimony from the Indiana Attorney General and representatives from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, AARP of Indiana, Indiana Association of Area Agencies on Aging, and a phone scam victim's family member.
The panel emphasized that scams and fraud come in many shapes and sizes. In addition, increasingly savvy criminals use elaborate schemes to cheat seniors out of their hard-earned money. This is a growing concern to seniors, law enforcement, and policymakers at all levels of government. After a lifetime of hard work, seniors should have peace of mind knowing they can enjoy a secure retirement.
Based on testimony at the hearing, I would like to share with you three important themes that can help to promote fraud identification and prevention:
- Education is the key to preventing senior fraud. Many seniors do not believe they personally will fall victim to fraud and do not take the necessary precautions. Promoting fraud awareness and education by sharing victims’ experiences can emphasize the scope and prevalence of these financial crimes.
- Remove the stigma associated with being a fraud victim. To encourage victims to share their experiences with fraud and scams, we must get rid of the stigma associated with falling victim to these schemes. Misplaced stigma contributes to underreporting, which makes it difficult for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute these criminals. Seniors should never feel embarrassed or ashamed of being the target. Instead, we should focus on educating seniors on the sophisticated techniques scammers use.
- Use commonsense precautions to avoid scams. Seniors can reduce the risk of becoming a victim of scam or fraud by keeping personal information confidential and checking with family and friends about a suspicious call, email, or letter. Most importantly, never hesitate to call the authorities if you suspect you have been the victim of fraud.
I encourage you to visit my website at www.donnelly.senate.gov/seniors for information on how to file a consumer fraud complaint, to learn more about how to protect yourself from becoming a victim, watch video highlights from the hearing, or read a White Paper released by my office that details consumer fraud and scams targeting seniors.